Step-by-Step Guide to the Low-Carb Diet
June 30, 2019 / Hollie Shuttlewood
Losing weight is like cooking an egg: there are many ways to do it. If working out or avoiding fatty foods isn’t doing anything for your physique, there are other avenues you could consider. One increasingly popular method is the low-carbohydrate diet, or low-carb diet for short.
What is the Low-Carb Diet?
A low-carb diet is a diet that restricts consumption of high-carbohydrate foods such as bread, pasta, and sugar. There is some evidence that a low-carb diet may help people lose weight more quickly than a low-fat diet and, more importantly, that it may help maintain that weight loss, according to data gathered by the Harvard School of Health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention breaks the average American diet into three components: carbohydrates, protein and fat. According to its data, carbohydrates account for 47-50% of the average American diet, while fat accounts for about 34% and protein for 16%.
There are differences of opinion as to how much carbohydrate intake a low-carb diet should have. One definition from the American Academy of Family Physicians suggests that any diet with less than 20% carbohydrate content qualifies as a low-carb diet.
What to Eat on the Low-Carb Diet
There are many different variations of the low-carb diet, but all of them have one thing in common: they encourage the consumption of fewer carbohydrates and more protein and fat.
Here are some of the foods typically emphasized as part of a low-carb diet:
- Meat and poultry, e.g. beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey
- Fish and shellfish, e.g. salmon, tuna, swordfish, shrimp
- Dairy, e.g. cheese, non-sweetened yogurt
- Nuts, e.g. almond, walnuts, pecans
- Seeds, e.g. sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts
- Green vegetables, e.g. spinach, kale collard greens
- Certain fruits, especially berries.
What Not to Eat on the Low-Carb Diet
A low-carb diet is about restricting carbohydrate content but it doesn’t mean you have to avoid carbs altogether. In this day and age, it’s virtually impossible to achieve a zero-carb diet (because almost all foods have at least a small percentage of carbohydrate content).
Followers of low-carb diets are encouraged to minimize consumption of these foods:
- Pasta made from wheat, e.g. regular wheat or whole-wheat pasta
- Most grains and cereals, including rice and oats
- Certain fruits, particularly sweet and dried fruits, e.g. banana, pear, and dates.
- Root and high-starch vegetables, e.g. potato, yams, corn, beetroot
- Sweetened yogurt
- Fruit juice
- Legumes, e.g. lentils, beans, peas
Pros of the Low-Carb Diet
There is evidence that a low-carb diet is better for maintaining weight loss than a low-fat diet. For example, a DIRECT (Dietary Intervention Randomized Controlled Trial) study compared low-carb diets to low-fat diets in a group of people over two years. It concluded that low-carb was superior at losing weight and maintaining weight loss.
While most people adopt low-carb diets in order to lose weight, there is an added potential benefit: a healthier heart. A 20-year study of more than 80,000 women found that women who ate low-carb diets that were high in vegetable sources of fat or protein had a 30% lower risk of heart disease and 20% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than women on the average American diet.
Cons of the Low-Carb Diet
Like all weight-loss diets, the low-carb diet has received its fair share of criticism. According to one Virginia Tech study, diets low in carbohydrates can cause muscle weakness, confusion, dizziness, and fatigue. The authors of this study recommend that individuals who tend to work out or participate in endurance activities that last more than an hour should avoid low-carb diets.
One problem some people suffer when they start a low-carb diet is constipation. Whenever you make any changes to your diet, you should expect to experience changes in digestion. According to various reports, the reason people suffer constipation when on a low-carb diet is because of the reduced fiber intake. The best way to follow a low-carb, high-fiber diet is to include more non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower in your diet.
Easy Low-Carb Meal Ideas
A low-carb diet might sound difficult, but the truth is it includes a wide variety of foods. Like any diet, all that’s needed in order to successfully follow a low-carb diet is a bit of thought and planning.
Here’s how the average day might look with a low-carb diet:
- Breakfast – Omelette with mushrooms and scallions, plus a side of herbal tea
- Morning snack – Apple slices and mozzarella cheese
- Lunch – Grilled chicken breast with a side of broccoli and collard greens
- With Lunch – Blueberry smoothie with almond or coconut milk (and low-carb sweetener if you like your smoothies sweet)
- Afternoon snack – Mix of raw almonds, walnuts, and cashews
- Dinner – Fried salmon with parmesan cheese and a side of zucchini “noodles”
- Dessert – Low-carb fruit salad with slivered almonds.
Low-Carb Diet Meal Plans
Home Chef offers a broad menu for all tastes rather than meal plans based around specific diets. With its wide range of recipes, Home Chef is a good place to begin if you’re looking to design your own low-carb meal plan. We checked what Home Chef was offering and found countless meals and recipes that would qualify as low in carbohydrates.
With Home Chef, users can mix and match customizable meals to create up to 26 weekly choices. Home Chef offers plenty of great recipes based on sustainably raised meat, fish, and poultry that qualify as low-carb. Most of the meals come with sides of non-starch vegetables or low-carb fruits that are compatible with a low-carb diet.
Dijon-Cider Vinaigrette Chicken with Feta Asparagus (Home Chef).
Sun Basket offers a range of healthy meal plans, including a “carb-conscious” diet plan. Sun Basket’s low-carb plan includes sustainably raised meats, seafood, and eggs, along with plenty of low-carb fresh fruits and veggies. It never includes antibiotics, added hormones or sugars. The best thing about Sun Basket is that each recipe comes with one of its own signature sauces.
Each meal in Sun Basket’s carb-conscious meal plan is carefully curated to contain just the right amounts of carbs, fats, and proteins. Each meal contains 25-35g net carbs or less and at least 25g of protein per serving. In addition, all Sun Basket’s recipes are rich in omega 3 and all those good types of fats that come from olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
Salmon and braised fennel with charred orange and green goddess dressing (Sun Basket).
Green Chef doesn’t offer a low-carb diet but it does offer a close alternative – the Keto meal plan. The Keto diet is a type of low-carb diet that is also high in fats. Green Chef’s keto menu contains delicious low-carb meals and recipes that can be prepared at home in less than half an hour.
The keto menu changes every week. When we last checked in, we found meals like Thai shaved steak salad with kale, shiitake mushroom and cashews; Salmon with parmesan sauce, dill-seasoned red beets, cauliflower and capers; and tandoori chicken with cauliflower “rice”, roasted red peppers, and cashews.
Creamy tandoori chicken and cauliflower “rice” with roasted red peppers & cashews (Green Chef).